Economic Growth

How focused giving can unlock billions and catapult women’s wealth

Lizbeth Norma Alejandro Gómez in one of her Lima stores, illustrating how the gender gap may be closed with targeted giving

Strategic corporate giving, with a relentless focus on return on investment (ROI), can dramatically transform the economic landscape for women globally. Image: © 2023 Carey Wagner/CARE

Mark Muckerheide
Associate Vice-President of Women’s Economic Justice (WEJ), CARE USA
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  • The potential to create substantial wealth for women through strategic donations remains largely untapped.
  • To truly enhance the effectiveness of donations, corporate donors must partner with recipient organizations to measure and report the ROI of their programmes.
  • Investing in programmes that increase women’s earnings and savings — and enhance women's control over their finances — directly promotes economic equality.

I’ll start with a big statement:

Strategic corporate giving, with a relentless focus on return on investment (ROI), can dramatically transform the economic landscape for women globally.

Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No.

But first, we must address and close a massive gap. Nearly one billion people worldwide live on less than $2.15 per day. Each year, only $200 billion in aid is available. Yet, it is estimated that over $4 trillion in additional capital is needed in low- and middle-income countries to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That’s 20 times more than the world’s $200 billion annual aid budget.

This resource gap isn’t a problem if every $1 in philanthropy catalyzes $20 in community wealth. Unfortunately, most interventions typically only deliver twice ROI. This resource gap isn’t a problem if every $1 in philanthropy catalyzes $20 in community wealth, as a standard ROI.

But there’s good news: the potential to create substantial wealth for women through strategic donations remains largely untapped. We believe 20 times ROI is possible, which is ten times better than today’s average two times ROI. We’ve seen programmes using market-based approaches that deliver four times, ten times and even 29 times multipliers for each donor dollar received.

So where do we start? How can you invest in programmes that deliver well beyond today’s two times ROI and deliver on the impact areas that matter to your corporate goals?

I had this same question ten years ago, when I led the corporate social responsibility programme for a top US retailer. I didn’t have an answer then, but after six years leading CARE’s Women’s Economic Justice programme, I believe women in the countries we aim to serve have the answer. First, focus on her wealth. Second, do it effectively (with a high ROI).

Have you read?

Step 1: Prioritize women’s financial control

Empowering women to manage their finances directly addresses systemic gender disparities. The gap between men’s and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally is $172 trillion. For context, the entire world GDP in 2023 was $105 trillion. If you haven’t built gender into your giving strategy, your philanthropy probably disproportionately benefits men and misses an opportunity to drive inclusive economic growth.

Let’s start by asking how much additional money is in her hands — where she can make the decisions — because of your programme. It’s a simple initial question, but one many of us don’t measure. At the end of the day, the economic impact for women is what matters — her earnings, savings, and investments that she controls — her money.

Not only will access to and control of finances close the gender earnings gap and drive GDP, but it’s what women want. In our research, women consistently prioritize livelihoods and income as one of the biggest focus areas where they want attention and support — even in the middle of a crisis.

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Step 2: Insist on high ROI

To truly enhance the effectiveness of donations, corporate donors must partner with recipient organizations to measure and report the ROI of their programmes. Simply put, how much more money does she have in her hands for each philanthropic dollar you give? This focus helps identify and scale the most effective initiatives.

Several organizations stand out for their effective use of corporate donations to generate substantial economic returns for women. These include:

Fair Trade USA

By partnering with local communities and businesses, this organization has mastered creating $4 in earnings for women for every $1 received, focusing on sustainable agricultural practices.

One Acre Fund

Within agricultural market systems and supply chains, One Acre Fund delivers a four times ROI and uses Social Return on Investment (SROI) as a metric to help determine how to allocate resources.

TechnoServe

This group shows a $5 return for each dollar invested in cash crop value chains, highlighting the potential for specialized agricultural interventions.

Mastercard Center For Inclusive Growth – CARE Ignite program

An innovative approach to financial inclusion, this programme redesigns banking products to meet women's specific needs, including removing requirements to have male guarantors on loans, allowing for alternate forms of collateral, such as gold jewellery, separating a woman’s credit history from her husband’s debt load or shortening loan terms to match the seasonality of the businesses that women run. This resulted in more than $155 million in new loans and a 29 times multiplier.

The vast majority of CSR teams don’t measure this type of performance. Most companies measure their social impact in 'reach,' the number of people receiving some gift or service. Reach is useful as an early, leading indicator, but it just means, “we worked with this many people.”

If you’re measuring impact already, you’re well ahead of the curve. But impact alone doesn’t tell us how much change happened or how effective that change was. Said differently, counting impact doesn’t tell us if a woman gained $10 of income or $100 of income. Additionally, even if the result was $100 of additional income, it doesn’t tell us how much we spent on the programme to make that change happen. Even with high-performing programmes, it’s hard to know if women benefitted as much as men or if the programme worsened the gender gap.

When women don’t see equal gains, the world misses out on their potential. Achieving gender equality globally is estimated to raise global GDP by up to $28 trillion or more than 30%.

Focusing our funding

Strategic philanthropy that targets high-ROI initiatives to economically empower women doesn't just benefit global economies — it transforms them. Investing in programmes that increase women’s earnings and savings — and enhance women's control over their finances — directly promotes economic equality.

By targeting a 20 times return on investment, corporations can play a crucial role in narrowing the economic gaps women face in developing regions. More than just aid, this strategy fosters sustainable economic independence, turning donations into drivers of long-term wealth creation.

The opportunity for impactful change is immense. To help everyone achieve the SDGs, the time to act is now. We need interventions that women have validated to work for them, that deliver higher ROI and benefit women at least equally, if not disproportionately.

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Economic GrowthEducation and SkillsCivil SocietyEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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